Category Archives: Blog

Pizza – Making it Healthy!

I had some friends over for dinner recently – I made pizza – whole wheat flour and semolina crust, topped with lightly sautéed spinach, onions, garlic and tomatoes.  I’ve found this very nice reduced-fat (30% fewer calories from fat) mozzarella cheese from SuperMaxi.  I’ve got a nonstick pizza pan that is ancient!  But it still works, and I don’t feel uncomfortable about eating two slices, knowing that I’ve chosen ingredients that won’t break my calorie bank.

I’ve recently joined the mailing list for America’s Test Kitchen – they review cooking equipment, post recipes and lots of great info about food science.  I enjoy Chris Kimble’s weekly podcast – he’s low key, philosophical about food, and his interviews are always interesting – I listen as I’m walking on the Tomebamba river in the morning, or as I’m walking to Spanish class.  I recommend it!

 Susan’s PizzaScreen Shot 2015-06-03 at 08.22.50

Here’s a recipe for my pizza:

Depending upon weather conditions and where you live (high humidity, altitude, etc.), you may need more or less flour, so go slowly.
I use a Kitchen Aid Mix-master with a dough hook attachment.  I’ve had this model for more than 12 years and it still works perfectly, but any stand mixer with a bread hook will do.  By the way, since the dough needs to be kneaded, a blender won’t do.  You can also make the dough the old-fashioned way and burn some calories at the same time.  Add flour to the yeast mixture slowly, a ½ cup at a time, mixing well with a wooden spoon until dough can be turned out onto a floured (preferably cool) surface.  Then, knead for at least 6 minutes (adding remaining flour), until dough is elastic.

Pizza Dough
1 cup warm, not scalding, water
1 packet or 2 Tbsp active, dry yeast

1/4 tsp salt

1 tsp honey
½ cup whole wheat flour
approximately 3-5 cups unbleached bread flour
1.  Place warm water, yeast, and honey in the bowl of the mixer.  Stir to dissolve
yeast, add ½ cup of whole wheat flour, stir until incorporated, and wait about 15 minutes, until it gets a bit bubbly.

Using the dough hook attachment on slow speed, add bread flour in about ⅓ cup at a time (about 3 cups—or more as needed) and then increase speed and knead until dough comes together and doesn’t stick to the mixer bowl.  You should be able to stick your index finger into it and leave a slight impression—it shouldn’t be too sticky to handle.

Coat a large bowl with cooking spray, place the ball of dough in the bowl, turn once to coat, then cover with plastic wrap or your bowl’s cover. Let sit for 30 minutes until the dough approximately doubles.  Now you’re ready for pizza!

Punch down and follow directions for pizza below.This recipe makes enough for two thin-crusted pizzas. You can also refrigerate dough in a large zip-lock bag—just shoot a quick spray of cooking spray inside—for about two days.

Before making the topping, “stage” your dough.  Roll out or spread in a nonstick pizza pan or rectangular pan that’s been sprayed with cooking spray and cover with a dishtowel—let rise a second time, at least 45 minutes. The recipe for dough makes one large pizza…with a thin crust.  Do this so the dough has a chance to raise again—it makes the crust good and chewy.

Pizza Topping
Cooking spray
red pepper flakes: ⅛ tsp (optional)

red onion, small diced (about 1/2 cup)

garlic, 2-3 cloves, diced

spinach, fresh, 10-oz pkg, rinsed and patted dry – or try collard greens or kale
mushrooms-sliced, 1 cup—I like Portobello, but any will do!
tomato-fresh, 1 large or 2 medium, chopped

Fresh basil – 1/2 cup shredded (optional) or 2 Tbsp dried Italian herbs
Part-skim mozzarella cheese—or any shredded hard cheese like Parmesan-shredded or grated

Coat a nonstick sauté pan with a quick spray of cooking oil and heat over low-medium heat.

Sauté red pepper flakes over medium heat for 1 minute.

Add red onion and garlic; stir and cook for 2 minutes – don’t let garlic burn – it will turn bitter.

Add spinach or other greens; cover and cook 3 minutes; uncover, stir, cover, and cook for another minute or so, until wilted.

Stir in mushrooms and continue to cook, covered, for about 5 more minutes; uncover and cook for 2 minutes until all liquid is evaporated.

Let cool about 10 minutes, and then spread over the dough.

Sprinkle on chopped tomato and basil, and then sprinkle on cheese.

Bake in the middle of the oven at 455 degrees for about 15 minutes, or until cheese is browned.

Optional additions:


Tofu, shrimp or sardines:  Boost the protein by adding tofu, fresh or frozen shrimp or canned sardines.  Use firm tofu, drain and pat dry, and cut into medium dice.  For the shrimp, use fresh or frozen small-medium; rinse and drain sardine.  Scatter over the pizza before sprinkling on the cheese.
Makes 8 slices

Nutritional information per slice (approximate):
Calories 207
Fat 2-3g
Saturated fat 1g
Trans fat 0g
Cholesterol 4mg
Fiber 5g

Sodium 100mg
Protein 8-10g (depending if you add fish or tofu)
Carbohydrate 5


Red Bananas – Pura Vida

Oh My!  I just love red bananas!  Until I arrived in Cuenca, Ecuador, the only bananas I’d peeled were those long, skinny, yellow ones – how about you?

You don’t know what you’re missing until you’ve uncovered the smooth, silky, creamy, slightly orange flesh of Red Dacca (the official botanical name)…so don’t miss it.

Now, I’m not one to memorize the genus and species of the fruits on my table, but the red banana has it all over the common yellow one.  Red bananas are shorter but plumper, almost hearty…the flavor sweeter, more red red bananacomplex.

According to Wiki, in Ecuador red bananas are known as Platano colorado or Plátano rosado. 

All bananas are nutritionally fabulous – they’re high in potassium and soluble fiber, making them heart-healthy.


And although they contain about 14 grams of total (not added) sugar, their glycemic index is relatively low – this is attributed to the fiber plus the fruit is rich in pectin.  Pectin helps blunt the natural sugar’s impact on blood glucose levels, so eating rich bananas aren’t off limits to people with diabetes.  Plus pectin is good for digestion.  Read more about the nutritional benefits of bananas on The World’s Healthiest Foods. 

We drove to to Machala from the Yungilla valley, and passed hectares and hectares and hectares of banana plantations – amid the thousands of rows of yellow bananas

mercado banana

we spied patches of our favorite red ones.  On our way back we bought a bunch from a roadside stand.  Sure, one dollar can buy you 10 – but until you’ve seen them, this statement just is a bunch of words – it doesn’t do it justice.  Each single red banana weighs the equivalent of two – even three yellow bananas.  They’re just big, fat, wonderful fruits. I’m in love 🙂

Back here in Cuenca, we buy red bananas at the 10 de Augusto mercado, on Calle Larga between Tarqui y Padre Aguirre.  Once you’ve had a red, you’ll never go yellow again.

Trying to Eat Better? Think Positive, Not Negative

Out of the Cornell Food & Brand Lab comes a new study that shows when it comes to helping you and your loved ones eat better – focus on the positive.

Instead of dealing with frustration and feelings of deprivation that results from thinking “no, no, no”…think yes!  Yes, I can eat this delicious fruit, and Yes, it will make me healthy, and Yes, I’m doing something good for myself that will make me feel good about me!

The study showed that it’s not useful to tell someone that “you’ll get fat if you eat that cookie”.  It’s far more effective to focus on the positive – “Here’s the good news!  Eating more vegetables will make you healthier!”

The study showed that public health campaigns that focus on fear – bad  consequences like getting fat from eating candy or drinking chocolate milk – aren’t effective.  Staying positive, pointing out benefits and affirming healthy behaviors is far more valuable than negative messages.

As reported, it’s better to focus on Do rather than focusing on Don’t.

good food bad food

Collating the data from 43 published international studies showed that for nutrition professionals like registered dietitians and doctors, negative messaging reaffirmed their knowledge and toughed their beliefs.  But for the average consumer, learning why it is a good idea to eat that apple – what were the health benefits – was better than hearing why eating that cookie was a bad idea.

So the take-away is for healthy weight management campaigns should focus on the positive – that’s what people respond to.  As Brian Wansink, PhD director of the Cornell Food and Brand Lab, and author of Slim by Design said, “If you’re a parent, it’s better to focus on the benefits of broccoli and not the harms of hamburgers.”
For people who are thinking about losing weight, first set a goal – a realistic one.  How do you lose weight?  One pound at a time.  Each day that you make healthy choices, and get some deliberate activity  – walking fast, taking the stairs, dancing, swimming, hiking – is a day that builds on itself.  The more consistent you are at saying “yes” to healthy, whole foods the more your body will respond to your choices.
These findings compliment a recent 2015 publication in Nutrition Reviews, and it will be presented at the Society of Nutrition Education and Behavior’s Annual Conference 2015 in Pittsburgh by Brian Wansink, PhD and Lizzy Pope, Ph.D. University of Vermont (previously with the Cornell Food and Brand Lab).

The Food and Brand Lab was founded at the University of Illinois in 1997 by Professor Brian Wansink and moved to Cornell University in 2005. The Lab is an interdisciplinary group of graduate and undergraduate students from psychology, food science, marketing, agricultural economics, human nutrition, education, history, library science, and journalism along with a number of affiliated faculty.

Their research is independently funded by grants and consumer groups. It focuses on better understanding consumers and how they relate to foods and packaged foods. Their research has driven the creation of the Smarter Lunchrooms Movement and the Cornell Center for Behavioral Economics in Child Nutrition Programs (BEN)—two programs devoted to the funding, conduction, and dissemination of research concerning children’s health. Research from the lab has been reported in dozens of magazines along with coverage on CNN, 20/20, ABC News, NBC News, and on the front page of the Wall Street Journal and USA Today.

Little Pots at Tiestos

Photos of Tiesto's, CuencaA special restaurant, on everyone’s list of Top Cuenca “Don’t Miss” spots, we enjoyed lunch at Tiestos last Friday. We weren’t disappointed. Food is different…prepared fresh in a domed clay pot, a “tiesto”. We ordered chicken covered with vegetables, which comes out steaming along with little pots of sides…a cold cucumber salad, motte (corn), rice, boiled potatoes, tiny cous cous. Oh, and before all this, we were presented with bread and 8 pots of different sauces, flavors ranged from spicy salsa to sweet fruit chutney, and others in between. An ancient building, interesting art, fantastic service–all wearing Panama hats, some looking incredibly old.

Ken at Tiestos
Ken at Tiestos

Worth it. A review from Cuenca Highlife is descriptive: “…And talking about garnishes, don’t you love it when you go to a restaurant and are immediately served, say, marinated eggplant, chimichurri, fruit chutney, chilis, marinated onions and other garnishes? You can test it on bread before you lather it over your entree…”

Juan Carlos describes his style as “traditional Cuencano and fusion.”
This photo of Tiesto’s is courtesy of TripAdvisor

Electronics: Connected!

SAM_1566You might think that all we’ve been doing is dining out, but we’ve been walking…a lot! Ken was a bit taken back when he realized that last Tuesday and Wednesday we averaged 20,000 steps daily. But we got a lot done. We had Larry, an ex pat from Idaho, help us set up our computer/Roku/VPN land line, and we got Direct TV to move the cable connection from the media room. Jose worked with Puntonet, the Internet provider, to get the speed up to what our landlord is paying for. He was here until almost 8 PM on Friday, but we got it done.

So we’re connected…and more!